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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Chinese Lessons

Chinese Lessons

Five Classmates and the Story of the New China

John Pomfret

Henry Holt and Co.


"A highly personal, honest, funny and well-informed account of China's
hyperactive effort to forget its past and reinvent its future."—The New York Times Book Review

As one the first American students admitted to China after the communist revolution, John Pomfret was exposed to a country still emerging from the twin tragedies of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Crammed into a dorm room with seven Chinese men, Pomfret contended with all manner of cultural differences, from too-short beds and roommates intent on glimpsing a white man naked, to the need for cloak-and-dagger efforts to conceal his relationships with Chinese women. Amidst all that, he immersed himself in the remarkable lives of his classmates.

Beginning with Pomfret's first day in China, Chinese Lessons takes us down the often torturous paths that brought together the Nanjing University History Class of 1982: Old Wu's father was killed during the Cultural Revolution for the crime of being an intellectual; Book Idiot Zhou labored in the fields for years rather than agree to a Party-arranged marriage; and Little Guan was forced to publicly denounce and humiliate her father. As Pomfret follows his classmates from childhood to adulthood, he examines the effect of China's transition from near-feudal communism to first-world capitalism. The result is an illuminating report from present-day China, and a moving portrait of its extraordinary people.

Chapter One

Warmly Welcome You

At six o'clock in the morning of February 3, 1981, I awoke with a start to the sounds of drums, trumpets, and the squawk of a woman telling me in Chinese to "increase vigilance, protect...

Praise for Chinese Lessons

“In this intimate and revealing book, John Pomfret shows why he is one of the great China correspondents of his generation: He has never held himself at a distance, but has plunged in, with vigor and an open mind. His approach to China has no tint of romanticism or awe; the lives he discovers and the stories he tells, including his own, are unvarnished, unexpected, and riveting.” —Steve Coll, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Ghost Wars

“Chinese Lessons is an extraordinary book. Through telling the intimate stories of his former classmates, John Pomfret reveals a contemporary China where many individual lives have been thwarted and twisted. This is a book full of insights, honesty, and compassion. It touched me deeply.” —Ha Jin, author of Waiting

“John Pomfret has written a brilliant, insightful book describing the dark side and human cost of the 'Chinese economic miracle.' His feel for China, based on years of living there, his fluency in Chinese, and his reporting genius cut through the sham and spin.” —James R. Lilley, former U.S. Ambassador to China and chief of the American Mission in Taiwan

Reviews from Goodreads

John Pomfret

Formerly The Washington Post's bureau chief in Beijing and Los Angeles, John Pomfret was named editor of the Post's Outlook Section in 2007. In 2003, he was awarded the Osborn Elliott Prize for Excellence in Asian Journalism and in 2007 won the Shorenstein Prize for coverage of Asia. He lives near Washington, D.C., with his wife and family.

image of John Pomfreto
Art Streiber

John Pomfret